I have a picture I need to share. In fact, it’s more of a video cum movie than a picture. It’s a running video scene that in my heart and in my mind’s eye is as clear and succinct as anything could be. However, I have a problem.
Have you ever read Ezekiel’s first chapter? It’s obvious that what the prophet saw was clear, clean and, to him, well perceived and easily understood. He knew what he saw. And, he knew that what he saw was a clear statement to mankind as any could be. No problem! Until he puts quill to parchment! We then have a mysterious cryptic 28 verses to unravel. It’s the chapter of the “Wheels within wheels,” and the living beings going straightforward in different directions, with four faces, yet never separating because their wings were touching each other continually. There were eyes in the wheels, and the spirit of the creatures was in the wheels. Draw a pencil sketch of that if you can! I have seen, through the years, something like half a dozen attempts at a pictorial presentation of Ezekiel’s vision. They have all been wonderful, yet each of them, to my mind, failed in some aspect of the whole of Ezekiel’s text. Ezekiel saw it, and I am convinced that he was satisfied with the description as he wrote it. However, it seems that without some heavenly revelation, we can’t seem to get to grips with all that he saw that day by the River Chebar.
Ezekiel leaves us with a description that we cannot properly image. It is like describing the colour red to a blind man who has never seen. It is comparable to explaining in sign language to a profoundly deaf person, the difference between a C major chord and a C minor. We need some deep revelation.
I am in no way comparing my visionary insight with the weight and inerrancy of Ezekiel. God help us! What I am saying is that seeing something so clearly, and writing these words after having written what is below, I have edited and discovered that I have not painted my word picture clearly, yet it is what I see.
To plot my route from the start, I leave you with the nine hooks that I want to hang my thoughts on. Nine hooks that will let you in to where my heart and eyes have been in my hunger for revelations of the invisible. It is all about each time that “the heavens” or the “heavenly places” is mentioned in Ephesians:
- Ephesians 1:3 The Locus of the Glorified Christ
- Ephesians 1:10 The Prophesied Future Harmony of the Heavens and the Earth
- Ephesians 1:20 The same Heavenly Power that Enthroned the Risen Christ reigns in the Christian
- Ephesians 2:6 Christ and the church are in the same Locus in Heavenly Places
- Ephesians 3:10 The Universal Display of the Wisdom of God Displayed Cosmically Through the Church
- Ephesians 3:15 There are Family’s in Heavenly Places just as there are on Earth
- Ephesians 4:10 The exaltation of Christ is such that His Glory is Higher than the Heavens
- Ephesians 6:9 The knowledge of things in the Heavens should Govern our conduct on Earth
- Ephesians 6:12 The struggle of life is primarily won or lost in the Heavenly places
There is no such place as a singular “heaven” in Ephesians! No! I am not going heretical! Heaven, and/or its environs appear nine times in the epistle that we are at present trawling through, but it is always stated as a plural! “The Heavens” is the truer translation, even though, because of western mindsets it is often translated as “heaven.” It is used sometimes in the singular in the New Testament, and centuries of religious tradition in Europe have nailed it into our psyches. “Heaven” and “Hell” seem more stark and better understood when expressed in the singular.
The word in the original Greek is “ouranous” when it is singular and “ouraniois” when its plural. “Ouraniois” is in Ephesians three times. But then there is “epouraniois,” translated as “heavenly realms” or “heavenly places,” suggesting a view of “the heavens” that is differentiating the areas of its “real estate.” Perhaps the plural noun and adjective is referring to different dimensions or levels of heaven. Paul said he was taken up “to the third heaven” (2 Corinthians 12:2). What is the significance of three heavens? Are there only three? Without doubt Paul wrote Ephesians after the experience he refers to in 2 Corinthians 12, and perhaps that is what influenced him in using the plural terminology. Revelation can change the language of a person.
There are times when we read scripture and accept, almost as a cliché, some of the most remarkably profound and revelatory statements. I am talking specifically about one area of these profundities today. What should we think and believe about heaven? It has always challenged my conceptual thinking whenever I have had to engage with the phrase, “in heavenly places” in Ephesians. What are “heavenly places?” Is it geographically located? How is it that I am here as well as there? (i.e. “at Ephesus,” “in Christ”(1:1). See also Ephesians 2:6) And how should this dual locus impact my life? I have often wondered if I even understand the phraseology of “heaven” correctly. Follow my trail of questioning thought as I engage and grapple with the scriptures on this issue.
I have chosen to use the word “locus” on this page simply because even though I personally am convinced of a physical dimension in the heavens, I quite understand that many of my readers might not. To ensure I do not lose you on my journey I am using “locus” as opposed to “location.” Locus meaning a centre of power or activity of control that may or may not be geographically physical.
Ephesians 1:3 The Locus of the Glorified Christ
As first mention of the “heavenlies” in the epistle at only the third verse, this phrase seems simple enough; elementary even: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ:”
What is this statement all about. One would not have thought there was any issue or struggle in getting hold of this line. First of all the phrase, “who has blessed us” in the original Greek is in the aorist tense which means that there was a point in time when all the blessings that he refers to were given to us. Not bit by bit, but the whole package was given in one moment. As we read on in the first chapter we will see that it was given at the believer’s moment of conversion.
This means that Paul is discussing blessings that need to be understood, discovered and enjoyed. They are definitely not to be asked for. They have already been given. Christians are not heading for victory but coming from victory. I believe that “in heavenly places” in 1:3 is referring to the very place from where believers receive the grace and specified gifts that comprise “every spiritual blessing.” This is the entire point of this opening statement of Paul’s missive. This is logical also when seen in the light of the New Testament in general. “In heavenly places” is where the ascended, exalted Christ is at this moment, and where believers are also as per Ephesians 2:6. The Christian is incorporated “in Christ.” No problematic mental gymnastics are needed! It makes total sense. “In heavenly places” carries the meaning of actually being in the spiritual realm. Christ is there. We are there because we are “in Christ.” The fullness of the blessing that is in Christ is given from heavenly places and landed in our spirits, in our lives on planet earth.
In contrast to the present earthly realm, which is the locus that human beings are sentiently aware of, the “heavenly places” are declared to be the experiential reality of the believer’s environment whether we sense it or not. There are four times “In heavenly places” occurs in Ephesians. When each statement is seen in its context and in their combination, it is clear that Paul is speaking about real places which are beyond earth’s atmosphere and/or in a parallel dimension to where we physically exist. We know for certain that the region designated as “heavenly places” is the very locus of the ascended Christ in His present state of exaltation. The “heavenly places” are an authentic reality in which believers currently share a throne along with the Saviour.
Wherever Christ is, so is the Christian. If I place a photograph of myself inside a book, and then send the book to the moon with a NASA astronaut, wherever the book goes the photo goes, simply because the photo is in the book. In exactly the same manner, the believer is, “in Christ.” Wherever Christ goes, so does the believer. Do not be fooled into thinking that because we are on planet earth and Christ is in the heavens that Paul must be using some poetical pink and fluffy statement to make us feel good and closer to Jesus. The born again Christian is in a spiritual, nevertheless real way, conjoined to the living resurrected Christ. The Christian was crucified with Christ, died with Christ, buried with Christ and resurrected with Christ. We shall also see that Ephesians 2:6 tells us that all Christians are now seated with Him in heavenly places in Christ.
In Ephesians 1:3, Paul is eulogising God the Father for all that we have received in Christ. What we have he defines as “every,” or “all” spiritual blessings that have descended upon us from the heavens, and it is plainly described as every conceivable blessing that heaven has to give. Therefore, we logically extrapolate that if Christ is in heavenly places, and we are in Christ, we are seated with Him, together in heavenly places. This straightforward logical extrapolation is confirmed when we get to Ephesians 2:6. Those multifarious blessings from heavenly places belong to us as an unearned inheritance, and they are given in order to impact our physical existence here on earth.
I find it difficult to withhold from the ever growing conviction within me that these heavenly places are geographical, if not in time, at least in space – somewhere – somehow. What drives me to push this? When Moses, Ezekiel, Isaiah, Daniel and John saw into “heavenly places” none of them struggled to explain what they saw, heard and touched – even tasted. They simply “saw” it: and independently in different cultures and different generations saw the same things as each other. When Moses was told to build the Tabernacle in the wilderness he was told to construct it “exactly” as he had seen it in heaven. What he saw he remembered, and what he remembered was a tangible measurable form of a tent. He glimpsed it in heaven. It is a wonderful glorious mystery. For these reasons it is wise to think long and hard before we simply cast a judgement that it was only spiritual language explaining invisible abstract spiritual concepts. None of the Hebrew prophets talk abstractly.
The biblical picture is plainly laid out for our carnal minds to chew on and assimilate. The heavens are the eternal dwelling place of God the Father. Jesus taught us to pray; “Our Father who is in Heaven” (better translated “in the heavens,” or “in heavenly places” (plural)). “Heaven” is the English noun, “Heavenly” is the English adjective. It is from this “place” that the Son of God descended to become incarnate (John 3:13, 3:31, 6:38 and 6:42). Up to this point of the developing picture we may conceive it as something spiritual and non-physical. However, the risen Christ was physically tangible. He was touched and proven to be physical, and he ate in the presence of people. The physical resurrected Christ left us. In Christ’s ascension He literally “passed through the heavens” and into glory (Hebrews 4:14 Revised Version), and then, in sequence “ascended far above the heavens” (Ephesians 4:10) and was made even “higher than the heavens” (Hebrews 7:26). The risen physical flesh and bone Christ stepped into the heavens. At that point Christ sat down on the right hand of the throne of the majesty in the heavens (Hebrews 8:1). Peter tells us that Jesus is “on the right hand of God” having gone into heaven (1 Peter 3:22). Since the day of Christ’s ascension into heaven, recorded for us in Acts 1, this has been the scenario of His intercessory life, activity and ministry (Romans 8:34. Hebrews 9:24). He lives there in the power of an indestructible life interceding for the church (Hebrews 7:16). These heavenly places are the places from which the Holy Spirit descended on the day of Pentecost (1 Peter 1:12). One of these places is where Paul was caught up to not knowing whether he was in the body or out of the body (2 Corinthians 12:2), which suggests that the “third heaven” was so literal and tangible, Paul wasn’t sure that he was out of the body. This is the place from which the angels minister to those who shall be heirs of salvation (Matthew 18:10. 22:30. Revelation 3:5. Hebrews 1:14). It is the place from which Christ will come to receive His saints at the rapture (1 Thessalonians 4:16. Philippians 3:20-21) and from where He will thereafter descend with His saints and holy angels at the moment of the second advent (Matthew 24:30. 2 Thessalonians 1:7). It is, throughout the depths of eternity’s measurements, to be the dwelling place of the resurrected saints in glory (2 Corinthians 5:1). Can we read these writings and not graphically picture a setting that seems geographical?
In Heavenly Places Now.
Yet even having said all this, it is now, at this moment of our earthly present that Paul tells us that our citizenship is in heaven – not future tense, but a present possession. We are now citizens of heaven. The Christian in the here and now is primarily and importantly a citizen of heaven – a citizenship that carries a greater priority over earth’s citizenship (Philippians 3:20). Our conduct down here is to be modelled on our citizenship in the heavenly places, not the other way around.
Reverting back to the text of Ephesians 1:3 then, it is from “heavenly places” that He dispenses the sum total of all the glorious blessings which He died to give us. The major mental picture that I am struck with is that heaven is an alternative locus, physical or otherwise, (in another dimension?) where the believer possesses a literal stake and resides in the Spirit contemporaneously with Christ. Whether it is physical in the sense of length, breadth and height, or, whether it is a physical world beyond our physical reality, we cannot be sure – yet. The universe is governed both morally and physically from the heavens. The heavens themselves are the serious, legitimate and very real “engine rooms” serving the entire cosmos. It is Yahweh’s “residence.” This is an incredible revelation of the invisible. The physical cosmos was created and spoken into being from within the spiritual cosmos. It is the unseen eternal God, in the unseen heaven, who spoke the temporal earth and the temporal stars into being. If the physical is therefore contained within the spiritual, the laws and requirements of the spiritual cosmos obviously have priority. The physical is temporary. The invisible is eternal. Oh to know more of the “heavenly places!”
English Bible translators seem to struggle to achieve a definitive translation of this phrase into the Queen’s English. “In heavenly places” is in the King James Version as well as the ESV, ASB, and NASB. That is the most commonly used term probably because it has been in circulation since 1611, if not before. Other versions vary the image with things like “in the heavenly realms” (plural) (NIV, NLT, NET Bible.), while the ISV has it “heavenly realm” (singular). The Holman Christian Standard Bible just translates it, “the heavens”. The authoritative Darby Literal Translation has it as, “The heavenlies.” The Aramaic Bible in plain English calls it: “heaven,” as does God’s Word translation.
We are, therefore, by Ephesians 1:3 introduced to an incredible adventure of biblical revelation concerning the nature of the blessings in a Christian’s life that come to us from the heavens. Indeed, the whole adventure concerns our very relationship with heavenly places in the here and now.
Ephesians 1:10 The Prophesied Future Harmony of the Heavens and the Earth
“That in the dispensation of the fullness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in the heavenlies, and which are on earth; even in him.”
In the use of, “in the heavenlies,” in Ephesians 1:10 one finds a conformity, as well as a contrast between “the things in the heavens” and “the things on the earth.” The heavens are understood to be a part of the created reality (“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth). The things “in heaven” and the things “on earth” are to be brought together under the headship of the exalted Christ in the fullness of times. “The dispensation of the fullness of times” is referring to the end of the present order of things when Christ will rule supreme for a thousand years, referred to by theologians as “The Millennium”. Clearly, the heavens are as substantial as the earth, and are together to be brought into oneness under the authority and rule of Messiah. Jesus Christ is Lord of the heavens and the earth. In the fullness of time God the Father will bring all things together “in one” in Christ.” This has always been God’s plan and purpose and it will be accomplished. This means, to put it bluntly, that anybody who does not have Jesus Christ as the pre-eminent Lord of their life is entirely out of focus with the eternal purpose of God.
The Joining of Heaven and Earth
This statement involves the marriage of the divine transcendent heavenly realm with the earthly material reality. It is worth noting that what comes under Christ’s headship are “the things in the heavens,” implying that “in the heavens” refers primarily to living beings in the uppermost part of the created order (angels, archangels, as well as cherubim, Seraphim.), since it is the contents of the heavenlies which are involved. I understand this to mean that things will be as they were with Adam before the fall of man, when the heavens and the earth seemed to have met in those moments after Adam’s creation before the serpent interfered with the human existence.
God, will have all things volitional and non volitional, all life forms and non-life forms, everything that is animal, vegetable and/or mineral brought together under the influence and rule of Christ, whether in the heavens or on the earth. Then we will experience the heavens and the earth functioning in complete oneness and harmony. It cannot however happen until Christ has returned and is reigning on earth. The curse will then be removed from creation. No more thorns! No more sickness! The Lion will lie down with the lamb, and even the wild bears will become vegetarian along with the lions. Children will play with the asps and be totally safe. The story of Isaiah is clear. The ravages of sin will be removed from both the physical as well as the spiritual cosmos.
It is not that God, or Christ is not the Lord at this moment of time. Indeed Jesus Christ IS Lord, not just will be or was. The statement of Ephesians 1:10 looks forward to the end of time as we know it when all final divine judgements are complete and the new heavens and the new earth will be in place; when the earthly and the heavenly will be in glorious harmony and symphonic interaction. The heavenly paces will still be heavenly places. The earth will still be the earth; but all people and things in one will become harmoniously one with the angels and beings in the other. The resurrected human contingent will interact freely and gloriously with the eternal angelic society.
Ephesians 1:20 The same Heavenly Power that Enthroned the Risen Christ reigns in the Christian
“Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places.”
In the prayer of Ephesians 1:15–23, “in the heavenly places” is used to refer to the heavenly enthronement of the exalted Christ by Heavenly Father (1:20-21). The prayer itself is offered by Paul on behalf of the recipients of the letter, that they may be granted spiritual insight and knowledge into three areas of their knowledge of Christ:
- The hope and expectation of God’s calling on their lives(1:18),
- The glorious riches of His inheritance in and among the saints already given (1:18), and
- The exceeding greatness of His power towards the believer (1:19).
The Same Power that Raised Christ from the Dead
The really exciting and inspirational contents of the apostle’s prayer concerns the power that God Himself exercised when Christ was raised from the dead, taken to heaven and enthroned in glory. The point is that the power of heaven that worked in the resurrection, ascension and enthronement of Christ is exactly the same power that flows towards the Christian. In order to express this accurately, the latter phrase of Paul’s prayer points are paralleled by a fourfold demarcation of this power, which God is now investing towards and within those that believe, with what He did for Christ:
- God “raised Him from the dead” (1:20) in the same way that He raised the Christian from being spiritually dead. It is the same action and the same power.
- God “seated Him at His right hand in the heavenlies” (1:20). The Christian is empowered and given authority in the same way that power and authority was given to Christ. The same action and power was used towards us.
- God “subjected all things under His feet” (1:22 quoting Ps 8:6). All Christians have more authority and power in the Spirit than they could ever imagine, just as power and authority was given to Christ.
- God “gave Him as head over…the church” (1:22).
Separating 1 and 2 from 3 and 4 is verse 21, which contains a further insight into the Saviours exaltation and glorification. This exaltation is described as “far above all rule, authority, power, lordship, and every name named, not only in this age but in that which is to come.” There is nothing and nobody with more power and authority in the universe than Jesus Christ.
The LORD said to my Lord “Sit at My Own Right Hand
The allusion to Psalm 110:1 in the phrase “set him at his own right hand” full of revelation since this psalm was understood to be gloriously Messianic because of Christ’s own explanation. The phrase, both here and in Psalm 110:1 is to be understood as a statement of divine power and supreme authority invested into Messiah by Yahweh Himself. According to the enthronement imagery of Psalm 110:1, this authority is given to Christ at His ascension, exaltation and His being enthroned in Heaven. Simply because the phrase “set him at his own right hand” is understood as an investment of authority (being made both Lord and Christ), there is no necessity of a purely symbolic (i.e. non local) meaning for the following phrase “in the heavenlies.” Thus, the phrase still maintains here the idea that emerged from its use in Ephesians 1:3 where the heavenly realm is contrasted to the earthly, but it is not “spiritual” in the sense of transcending the present “material” world. Rather, “in the heavenlies” or “in heavenly places” carries a geographically local sense, in that it is the place to which the resurrected physical Christ ascended and where He now resides at the right hand of God where all power and authority is invested in Him. We have a physical and resurrected man in the glory – so why should not heaven be seen as geographical.
As an incidental, “By the way,” this is similar to the picture drawn also by 1:10 where the phrase “in the heavens” is in contrast to “on the earth.” This similarity between the heavenlies and the earth is further supported by the fact that here in 1:20 a few manuscripts read “in the ouraniois” (the heavens) for “in the epouranos“ (“all heavenly places). This is the reason why this writer believes that “ouraniois” and epouraniois are completely interchangeable.
This has to be said to be one of the greatest passages in the New Testament concerning the power and authority God has invested in His children. We see clearly how the believer is sharing in Christ’s throne, and partaking of the power and authority which Christ’s throne represents, and is commissioned to use both that power and the authority.
There is no place in the New Testament that we are told to ask God to do something about the devil. It is the Christian believers who are supposed to be doing something about combating the devil. This is because Christ’s delegated authority has been given to the believer over all the works of the enemy. The prayer in Ephesians 1 is for the church to walk in the full revelation of this idea.
Ephesians 2:6 Christ and the church are in the same Locus in Heavenly Places
“And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”
In 2:6 “in heavenly places” occurs in a context where the present state of believers is contrasted with their previous state before conversion and faith. “And we, although we were dead in trespasses and sins, He (God) made us alive and has made us live together with Christ—by grace you are saved—and He has raised us up together (“raised us up together” one word. 2:6) and seated us together (“seated us together” one word. 2:6) in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus.” Why did God do these incredible things for us? “In order that He might demonstrate in the ages to come the exceeding riches of His grace which He lavished upon us in Christ Jesus.” Our victory in Jesus Christ is dependent on our dependency on Christ and not on ourselves.
The Authority of the Believer
Here the fuller implications of the previous occurrence of “in heavenly places” in 1:20 can be seen. It is not Christ alone who is raised and seated in exaltation “in the heavenlies” but also now believers participate in this exaltation and dominion with Him, as the three single-word verbs with the Greek prefix:“together” in 2:5–6 indicate. We were quickened together with Christ, raised together with Christ, and seated together with Christ. Once again, these three terms are in the aorist tense, meaning it has happened to the believer whether they know it or not. We cannot escape this truth by suggesting that such participation in the messianic experience is merely anticipatory of the age to come as some would suggest. Christ has been exalted over all angelic beings, “not only in this age, but also in the age to come” (1:21), and so too have believers been exalted “in” Him. And we have to keep in mind also that 1:3 makes it clear that the blessings are a present reality for believers. These revelations of the invisible become so exciting and faith building when seen in their combination. The actions of God towards the believer that are biblically explained in the aorist tense are gloriously faith building.
Again, in a fashion completely consistent with the previous uses of “in heavenly places” in 1:3 and 1:20, a sense of locale is present in the term in 2:6. As “in the heavenlies” is where the ascended Christ now is, exalted to a position of universal sovereignty, so also “in the heavenlies” is where believers are, because they have entered a state of participation with Him. We follow in the train of His triumph. Surely we are just condemned to a life of victory. In the entire Greek vocabulary there is not only the location of our seat in the heavens, but the power and authority that issues from Christ’s own throne. It is only because of Christ’s authority that is delegated to the church that all things, including the demonic realm are placed under our feet (Ephesians 1:22-23).
Ephesians 3:10 The Universal Display of the Wisdom of God Displayed Cosmically Through the Church
“To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God.”
The phrase “in the heavenlies” in 3:10 clearly maintains the sense of location and locus that we have noted in the earlier verses. The context of the statement of 3:10 is where Paul has just referred to himself as “the prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles.” He then begins another prayer, clearly on behalf of Gentile Christians just referred to in 3:1. He interrupts himself mid prayer, with another concentrated theme and is distracted in order to discuss his apostolic mandate as a steward of the mystery of Christ and the church,that had been revealed to him and had become such a major part of the message he preached (3:2–13). The subject and the particulars of the church were all a mystery in the Old Testament. There are prophetic lines that we can now see were referring to the church, but they were not clear enough revelations for the Old Testament prophets to understand. The content of the mystery he is referring to is made known in 3:6; it is that part of the gospel for which sections of Jewish communities that he visited actually wanted him dead. It was that “the Gentiles are fellow-heirs, fellow-members of the church, and fellow-sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” that gave Paul so much persecution. In the New Testament every detail of this mystery is revealed, even to demonic powers. God’s church is like a city set on a hill for all the world to see.
This is actually an expansion of what he writes about in 2:11–22, of the Gentile incorporation into the church. The Gentile Christians are to be regarded as complete equals with the Jewish Christians in the benefits and blessings which result from their relationship to Christ. The dividing wall has been broken down in Christ. The injunctions to evangelise, or to preach, and “to make all see” in 3:8–9 are best understood as the implementation of the Great Commission. The gospel is for all people of all races (3:8). It is a glorious factual insight getting to grips with the content of the grace given to the Apostle Paul. The revelation of all this was, “to the intent that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenlies through the church.”
Principalities and Powers both Angelic and Demonic know God’s Wisdom through the Church
Paul is revealing that the demonstration of the church in its life and ministry shouldactually instruct both angelic and demonic powers in the features and forms of God’s infinite wisdom. As far as the devil and his hordes are concerned, this demonstration is not to instruct them, as if they were to repent, but to ensure that at their final judgement, they shall know the heart and mind of God in the dynamics of His final assessment.
Leaving aside, but only for a moment, these “rulers and authorities” mentioned here, it is clear that the phrase “in the heavenlies” is intended to convey their location. However, the fact that they are “in the heavenly places,” must not restrict our view that their activities are only within the parameters of those realms, for they serve the “prince of the power of the air.” Whoever and whatever these “rulers and authorities” may be, they are located in the same general region as the exalted and enthroned Christ along with believers by virtue of incorporation “in” Him.
Thus at this point in the development of Paul’s understanding of “in the heavenlies” within Ephesians, it becomes clear that “heavenly places” does not describe the exclusive realm of the exalted Christ and the church. We know that is true because these regions are also the domain of “the rulers” and “the authorities.” 1:20-21 makes it totally clear, however, that Christ is exalted “far above” them all.
Ephesians 3:15 There are Family’s in Heavenly Places just as their are on Earth
“From whom the whole family in the heavens and the earth is named,”
The next reference to the heavenly realm in Ephesians occurs with the use of “the heavens” in 3:15. After concluding in 3:13 his digression on the mystery of Gentile incorporation into the church and his ministry in the proclamation of that mystery, Paul resumes his prayer in 3:14.
This prayer is addressed to the Father, who is then described further by the problematic qualifications of verse 15 : “from whom every family (“every fatherhood”) in the heavenlies and upon the earth derives its name.” What do we do with this cryptic phrase?
The apostle is referring to those that have been made righteous through faith in both the Old and the New Testament, those that were alive in Paul’s day, and those that were already in heaven. The prayer is also relevant to every believer that has lived since the day Paul first put quill to parchment in writing this letter. Believe it or not, this is the only time in the Bible where the term “family” is used to denote the saints of God. “Family,” however is obviously inferred in referring to others as “brother,” or “sister,” so we are not surprised at all when we see the word.
Family means a Fatherhood
As far as the meaning of “heavens” is concerned, the meaning is quite similar to that in 1:10, where the same twofold division of the cosmos is mentioned. In 1:10 the headship of the exalted Christ brings together “the things in the heavens and the things in the earth,” while here the “heavenly families” are linked to earthly families through their common dependence on the Father. The idea of the universal fatherhood of God over those in faith, which 3:15 implies, would admirably suit Paul’s thesis of Jew-Gentile equality within the church.
If this verse is interpreted as I have suggested above, “the whole family” refers to all that is, and all those that are in submission to Christ as one single universal family of faith. If interpreted as “every family in the heavens and in the earth,” I see it as referring to all races on earth that are in Christ, and the families of angels, archangels, Cherubim and Seraphim in heaven, as well as whatever other life forms created by Yahweh exist in the heavenly realms..
As far as the meaning of Heavenlies in the context of 3:15 is concerned, it must be concluded that the term has essentially the same meaning as in 1:10, where it refers to the highest peak of the created universe.
Ephesians 4:10 The exaltation of Christ is such that His Glory is Higher than the Heavens
“He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all the heavenlies, that he might fill all things.”
The heavenlies occurs again in 4:10, in the middle of the section which contains the quotation from Psalm 68:18 and the apostle’s revelatory comments on it.
Christ’s Descent into Sheol
It is plain to see in this graphic use of the term merely another instance of the localized sense of “heavenlies” as in 1:10 and 3:15, as well as it being virtually synonymous with the previous local sense of the phrase “in the heavenlies” in 1:3,1:20; 2:6; and 3:10. The descent represents Christ’s departure from the heavenly zones, while it does not state that the heavenlies are the goal of the ascent. In the ascension of Christ the heavenly realms are merely passed through in transit. They are an aside, as it were, and the ascension simply allows the inhabitants of the heavenly realms to watch and stare in awe and wonder at the risen Christ. Ephesians makes it clear that He wilfully left the heavenly realms. It is clear that because of the ascension leading “captivity captive,” that the descent is not restricted to the earth, but to the depths of sheol. One understands that the phrase “the lower regions of the earth” in 4:9 is inevitably influenced by the cosmology one assumes to lie behind the Apostle’s thinking. My assumption is that the descent referred to in Psalm 68:18 is referring to Christ’s descent into Sheol. His ascent is the leading of every righteous human spirit since Adam, held captive in Sheol until Christ was raised from the dead, who were then led into heaven in the train of Christ’s triumph. Romans 10:6–7, confirms my line here.
The cosmology thus far discussed throughout Ephesians has been totally two-tiered. The distinction is consistently made between earth and the heavens only. The only place in the letter that would contain any sort of allusion to hell is 4:7–10. Even the evil “powers,” which are often assumed to be consigned to the underworld, are located in the “air” (2:2), or “in heavenly places (6:12). Christ’s triumph over the powers of darkness may have been accomplished at Calvary but His descent into Sheol was just as necessary an action in the realm of the spirit. In the course of His victorious ascent, He passes through the heavenly regions en route to His exalted position “far above all.”
The phrase “led captivity captive” refers to Jesus liberating the Old Testament righteous from the restrictions of Sheol to the liberty of glory. Old Testament people who died, both righteous and unrighteous went to a place that the bible tells us is in the centre of the earth, called in Hebrew, “Sheol.” In most translations it is the same word that in Psalm 16:10 is rendered;”hell.” The Old Testament saints could not enter the presence of the Lord simply because the atonement of Christ had not been completed. It is in that sense that they were captives. Messiah, therefore had to descend to sheol in order to release them, and then ascend with them in company. He died for believers that were present and future, as well as from before the day of His resurrection.
Christ’s Ascent Above the Heavens
The ascent “above all the heavens” in 4:10 matches the exaltation and enthronement of Christ “in the heavenlies above all rule and authority and power and dominion,” in 1:20. The final words in 4:10, “that He might fill all things” resonates with “the fullness of Him that fills all things” in 1:23. In light of these couplets of similar language, one can see clearly that the cosmology as set in Paul’s thinking was absolutely clear. He does not use the term “in heavenly places” in 4:10 to describe the terminus and “end of journey” of the ascent, but “far above all the heavens.” How glorious the thought!
Ephesians 6:9 The knowledge of things in the Heavens should Govern our conduct on Earth
“And, ye masters, do the same things unto them, forbearing threatening: knowing that your Master also is in the heavens; neither is there respect of persons with him.
The Major motive Behind Luther’s “Haustafel”
Martin Luther wrote a commentary on the book of Ephesians. In it he listed family duties in the home and referred to those duties as the “Haustafel,” meaning literally “House blackboard.” In German Christian circles “Luther’s Haustafel” is a common point of discussion. The final occurrence of “in the heavenlies” in Ephesians is in 6:9, at the close of the Ephesian “Haustafel” (5:21–6:9). After addressing slaves in 6:5–8, Paul turned to the masters and in a single verse (6:9) summarized their responsibilities to those over whom they exercised “ownership” and authority. The single rock of rationale given to slave masters for forbearing with threats to one’s slaves was that, “the Lord is in the heavens,” and “there is no respect of persons with Him.” The heavens is used here in an exhortation to designate where the exalted Lord is—a clearly locational meaning. From this superior position the almighty impartial Judge, watches over the activities of both slaves and masters and by implication will hold each accountable for their attitudes and actions.
It is precisely this spacial or positional contrast between the exalted Christ (in heaven) and believers (on earth) that is needed in Ephesians 6:9 to emphasize Christ’s sovereignty as impartial Judge. This contrast would be obscured if “in heavenly places” were used, since the meaning developed previously emphasized the locus of both Christ and believers “in Him.” Thus “the heavens” was the writer’s obvious choice for 6:9. It is even clearer in nearly all English translations use the singular “heaven” in this verse.
Ephesians 6:12 The struggle of life is primarily won or lost in the Heavenly places
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
Demons in Heavenly Places
In one sense the “heavenly places” in 6:12 is the most revelatory use of the word in the entire letter. While the concept of angelic “powers” dwelling “in the heavenly places” was introduced in 3:10, they were not at that point expressly identified as evil. However, here in 6:12 the “powers” located “in the heavenly places” are described as “the world-rulers of this darkness” and “the spiritual (forces) of evil.” The phrase refers primarily to the realm of the evil powers rather than to the locale in which believers are fighting. But it is not rational to interpret this text in isolation from the remainder of the letter. In 1:3 and especially 2:6 “in the heavenly places” denotes the location of the exalted Christ and also of believers because of their union with Him. Believers are in one sense still on earth; but it is true that they are presently “in the heavenly places” also. We now discover plainly that this is where the evil powers with whom they struggle are also located, according to 6:12. This is a stark but wonderful revelation.
When one compares 6:12 with the description in 2:2 of the “archon” of the evil powers it seems that the sphere of influence within which these wicked powers are active extends down to the earth and the world of humankind. It is not limited to earthly global regions. This raises the possibility that “in the heavenly places” is a more comprehensive term than commonly thought. It is possible that it bridges the extremes of both the earth and the heavenlies: in some sense. Is it more like a dimension than a place?
Christians in Heavenly Places
The imagery implied by 6:12 and the remaining context is not that of (evil) spiritual forces placing humanity “under siege,” isolating them from the heavenly regions and forcing them to fight to “break through” and establish contact with the divine realm. On the contrary, believers are already seated “in the heavenly places” in Christ, united with Him (2:5–6); no “charge through enemy lines” is necessary. Yet at the same time believers are called on to fight (6:11–14). The victory over the forces of evil has not yet been completely won.
Christ in and Above the Heavenly Places
In spite of any theological difficulties raised by the placing of the evil powers “in heavenly places” according to 6:12, such a conclusion is consistent with statements made elsewhere in the letter (e.g., 2:2; 3:10). Furthermore the assertion that the evil powers are to be found “in heavenly places” favours a local sense as the general meaning of the phrase throughout Ephesians. The realm to which Christ has now been exalted (and believers in Him) is not presented as in strict isolation from the remainder of the created universe and totally transcendent. Rather the evil powers whose sphere of influence includes the earth itself are present “in the heavenly places” as well, and in spite of prior assertions concerning the subjugation of the powers to the exalted Christ (1:10; 1:20; and 4:10), their ultimate defeat appears as a future event, a defeat assisted by the spiritual battle entered into by the church.
There are four ranks of demonic forces mentioned in Ephesians 6:12.
- Principalities. These seem to be the field marshals, or rulers in Satan’s hierarchy. The word is “Arche” and considered by some scholars to refer to fallen angels. Archangels for instance seem to have responsibility over entire nations. The “Prince” over Persia referred to by the Archangel Michael in the book of Daniel is my main strand of logic that I stand on re this.
- Powers. The word is actually “exousias” meaning, “authorities.” I suggest these are they which infest human thoughts and emotions.
- Rulers of the darkness of this world. The cosmic rulers. I need light on this one.
- Spiritual wickedness in heavenly places. This is the wicked spirits that defile things in the earthly atmosphere. There purpose is to destroy all that is of Jesus Christ. They hinder God’s work, blind people’s minds, beguile, mislead and deceive people, tempt mankind, buffet Christians, and attempt to corrupt all that goes on in the church of Jesus Christ.
All demons flee at the name of Jesus. All demons must submit to the authority of Christ delegated to the church.